The Horse Named Rienzi
The Horse the Town was NOT Named After

Portrait of General Philip Sheridan on his beloved steed "Rienzi" , painted by Thomas Buchanan Reed, 1871

The story goes that a farmer was plowing his field in Rienzi about where the sharp curve is in County Road 409 where it meets School Street.  Some soldiers (one of which is said to be Col. Campbell) from the 2nd Michigan Calvary thought this beautiful black Morgan horse would be a fitting ride for their Colonel, Phil Sheridan.  Stories differ at this point depending on where you are from.  Some say the horse was just taken, some say they made a trade of 2 mules and still others are sure that the farmer was paid a healthy sum of money.  This writer is not going to put any credence to any of the above payments or lack thereof.  Anyway, Rienzi was a handsome gelding, jet black with white stockings on all but his off hind leg.  A descendant of the Morgan sire "Black Hawk", Rienzi was 17 hands high at the withers and about 3 years old. (Thus ending the argument that the town was named after a horse, seeing the town was named in 1836.  I am sure these soldiers would not have given their Colonel a 30 year old horse)

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Rienzi served his master well.  Although others found him too high spirited Sheridan could handle him from the first mount.  The horse never failed his master in spite of being wounded 4 times.  He was stabled near Winchester, VA when he led General Sheridan to victory after near defeat at the Battle of Cedar Creek.  It was then that Rienzi's name was changed to Winchester.

        After the war Rienzi was put to pasture for a well deserved retirement.  When he died in 1878, he was mounted and sent to the Museum of Military Service Institution of the United States on Governor's Island in New York.  Later he was transferred to the Smithsonian Institute where he remains to this date.

written by Pauline



For More Information Please Visit these Sites

The Smithsonian Magazine
The Pet Cemetery 
Armed Forces History
Vermonters Know About Rienzi

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